% fortune -ae paul murphy


As most people probably know Sun Microsystems changed its NASDAQ ticker symbol from SUNW to JAVA just a few weeks ago. That change elicited quite a lot of internal comment and relatively little external comment.

The more obvious issues raised were, I believe: whether this signalled a major strategic shift at Sun (no); whether Solaris package naming conventions would change too (no); whether not subscribing to the value of Java would be career limiting at Sun (for a while); and whether Sun's customers would care (probably not). The more subtle issues include things like whether a customer seeing a Java label on a third party product would recognise Sun's role in delivering that product (no) and what the word Java means in other languages (apparently it means "Good baby" in one of the Chinese language groups).

Most of these issues are non issues - even the claim that Java could outlast Sun's other technology contributions (absurd) or has some other teleological importance to the industry generated relatively little heat and, in my opinion, even less light.

What nobody mentioned in any of the reports or blogs I read discussing this is the classic impolite reality which, if it didn't actually motivate the change, will nevertheless make it a success. Efficient market hypothese believers to the contrary, the market is run on short term decisions by people like my former "friends" Bob, Jill, and Richard - they had daily charge of trading for what what was then an $11 billion investment fund, were enormously smart, and made their tactical decisions almost entirely on rumour, booze, and their perceptions of other people's perceptions.

So what will make JAVA a success? Perception; not of Java or Sun's role in making it the industry's first billion user baby, but of Java as good in the absence of other prior perceptions tied to Sun Microsystems.

Sun right now is under valued on technology, under valued on market position, and under valued on earnings potential while companies like Google and VMware are grossly over valued on rumour, booze, and investor's perceptions of other people's perceptions. So here's my bet: in maybe ten years academic analysts looking at Sun's market price will ascribe price gains made between now and next summer to the market's anticipation of earnings in response to the CMT/SMP technology - but in reality those gains will be mostly due to most of the analysts not noticing that the JAVA symbol stands for the same Sun Micro they previously denigrated at every opportunity.

Paul Murphy wrote and published The Unix Guide to Defenestration. Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry, specializing in Unix and Unix-related management issues.